East Mountain without police force as it seeks access to financial records

Ronnie Hill speaks about issues at East Mountain City Hall caused by former city employees on Wednesday May 10, 2017. (Michael Cavazos/News-Journal Photo)

GILMER — The city of East Mountain is without a police force after its lone officer resigned; those in City Hall still do not have access to municipal financial records; and the city could find itself back in court soon after a judge rules in five days about whether to reopen a series of lawsuits.

Former Mayor Ronnie Hill, who has been working as interim city administrator for about three weeks, said Tuesday that City Hall still does not have access to municipal financial records.

Two city secretaries left in May, and passwords to computers had been changed, leaving the city unable to access its water billing, court system and financial records.

The city since has been able to recover its court system information and water billing (and water bills did go out this month with payments being received at City Hall), but it has been unable to recover its financial records, Hill said.

The city paid $1,690 to QuickBooks, the company it uses for its finance software, and QuickBooks has been attempting to recover the information. Hill is hopeful to have the financial records recovered soon.

"We're in shape to do business right now," he said, referring to the water billing and court software.

The main thing the city needs is to be able to review its financial information.

"We have to build up some funds," Hill said. "I think we can recover, but it's going to take a little time."

Among reasons the city needs to know its financial standing is because it could soon be entering into a contract with the Upshur County Sheriff's Office for services.

Matt Graham, the city's only police officer since March, resigned, effective June 1.

The sheriff's office is monitoring the city similar to how it serves unincorporated areas of Upshur County.

However, Hill indicated the city and county are working on a contract that could see the city paying a fee to the sheriff's office for extra services. East Mountain previously considered paying the county to have a full-time deputy in the city. A decision about that has not been reached.

Lawsuits

On Tuesday, the city was back in court in Upshur County. There, visiting Judge Paul Banner heard arguments about whether to vacate a motion to dismiss a series of lawsuits filed against the city after attorney Andy Korn — representing residents Ken Miller, Gari Bellis and Lester Glover — said the city has not complied with a settlement agreement.

Korn is seeking to have the lawsuits reopened and a new trial set.

Those lawsuits, originally filed in the fall, sought the release of public information from the city. Banner ruled March 13 to settle the lawsuits, with an agreement stipulating the city must produce the records and pay $58,000, divided out into monthly payments of $6,000 each as well as an initial $10,000 payment.

According to Korn, the city has failed to produce all of the public records it was required to turn over, some of which pertain to former Police Chief Betty Davis' cellphone and others that pertain to city finances, such as copies of checks. Korn also said Tuesday that the city has not made its June payment for the settlement agreement.

Banner noted at one time during the hearing that to his knowledge, the city is nearly broke.

Korn argued that Banner has the authority to overturn his prior ruling if terms of a settlement have been violated. City attorney Lance Vincent argued that was "unverified" and said there needed to be a hearing to determine whether the city had indeed breached the settlement.

Banner heard information from Korn related to which portions of the settlement have not been complied with and said he will take five days to make a ruling about whether the reopen the lawsuits.

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